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Title: The First Landing on Wrangel Island
       With Some Remarks on the Northern Inhabitants

Author: Irving C. Rosse

Release Date: June 21, 2006 [EBook #18643]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1


Produced by A Volunteer, Irma Spehar and the
Online Distributed Proofreading Team at
(This file was produced from images generously made
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On May 4, 1881, through the courtesy of the Chief of Revenue Marine, Mr.
E.W. Clark, I was allowed to take passage from San Francisco, Cal., on
board the United States Revenue steamer _Corwin_, whose destination was
Alaska and the northwest Arctic ocean. The object of the cruise was, in
addition to revenue duty, to ascertain the fate of two missing whalers
and, if possible, to communicate with the Arctic exploring yacht

Our well-found craft made good headway for seven or eight uneventful
days of exceptionally fine weather, while the ocean, somewhat deserving
the adjective that designates it, displayed its prettiest combinations
of blue tints and sunset effects as we steamed through miles of
medusidæ; and had it not been for the sight of occasional whales and the
strange marine birds that characterize a higher latitude, we should
scarcely have known of our approach to the north. Soon, however, we were
beset by pelting hail and furious storms of snow and all the discomforts
of sea life, causing a _pénible navigation_ in every sense of the term.
On May 15 we were somewhat disoriented while trying to make a landfall
in a blinding snowstorm, and groped about for several hours before
anchoring under one of the Alp-like cliffs of the Aleutian islands.

       *       *       *       *       *

Without going into further details of the cruise, I will state that on
the previous year five unsuccessful attempts were made by the _Corwin_
to reach Herald island, and that Wrangel island was approached to within
about twenty miles. This "problematical northern land," the existence of
which the Russian Admiral Wrangel reported from accounts of Siberian
natives, and which he tried unsuccessfully to find; a land that Captain
Kellett, of Her Britannic Majesty's ship _Herald_, in 1849, thought he
saw, but which, under more favorable circumstances of weather and
position, was not seen by the United States ship _Vincennes_; a land, in
fact, that from the foregoing statements and from the imperfect accounts
of whalemen we had begun to regard as a myth, was actually seen; and I
shall never forget the tinge of regret I felt when the necessity of the
position obliged the withdrawal of the ship and I took a last lingering
look at the ice-bound and unexplored coast, fully realizing at the time
the joyous satisfaction that must animate the discoverer and explorer of
an unknown land.

However, better luck was in store; for Captain Kellett's discovery was
afterwards completed by the _Corwin_. I now purpose to narrate a few
circumstances attending this first landing on Wrangel island, which may
be best told by further reference to Herald island. Captain Kellett, the
only person known to have landed at the latter place previously to this
account, reports that the extent he had to walk over was not more than
thirty feet, from which space he scrambled up a short distance; that
with the time he could spare and his materials "the island was
perfectly inaccessible." He expresses great disappointment, as from its
summit much could have been seen, and all doubts set aside regarding the
land he supposed he saw to westward. An extract from one of Captain De
Long's letters, making known his intention to retreat upon the Siberian
settlements in the event of disaster to the _Jeannette_, says, in
reference to a ship's being sent to obtain intelligence of him: "If the
ship comes up merely for tidings of us let her look for them on the east
side of Kellett land and on Herald island." Being in a measure guided by
this information, the _Corwin_ made the forementioned places objective
points in the search. It was not, however, till after the coal bunkers
were replenished with bituminous coal from a seam in the cliff above
Cape Lisburne, that an effort was made to reach the island. During the
run westward--a distance of 245 miles--the fine weather enabled us to
witness some curious freaks of refraction and other odd phenomena for
which the high latitudes are so remarkable. On July 30, the fine weather
continuing, everybody was correspondingly elate and merry when both
Herald and Wrangel islands were sighted from the "cro'-nest" and, as
they were neared, apparently free from ice. This illusion, however, was
soon dispelled. On approaching the land strong tide rips were
encountered, and finally the ice, the drift of which was shown by the
drop of a lead-line to be west-northwest. We steamed through about
fifteen miles of this ice before being stopped, less than half a mile
from the southeast end of the island by the fixed ice, to which the ship
was secured with a kedge. We got off, and after considerable climbing
and scrambling up and down immense hummocks, and jumping a number of
crevices, finally set foot on the land we had been so long trying to
reach. Our advent created a great commotion among the myriads of birds
that frequent the ledges and cliffs, and the intrusion caused them to
whirl about in a motley cloud and scream at each other in ceaseless
uproar. A few minutes sufficed to survey the situation, before
attempting to ascend at a spot that seemed scarcely to afford footing
for a goat. Near the foot of the cliffs were seen on the one hand
several detached pinnacles of sombre-looking weather-worn granite that
had withstood the vigor of many Arctic winters; on the other hand a
seemingly inaccessible wall, vividly recalling the eastern face of the
Rock of Gibraltar. This sight, strange and weird beyond description, did
not fail to awaken odd thoughts and emotions, far removed as we were
from all human intercourse, amid solitude and desolation, and for a
moment the mind absorbed a dash of the local coloring. Selecting what
was believed to be the most favorable spot to ascend the cliff, two of
our party in making the attempt would occasionally detach large
bowlders, which came bounding, down like a bombardment.

The attempt was abandoned after climbing a few hundred feet. In company
with several others, I tried what seemed to be a more practicable way--a
gully filled with snow--up which we had gone scarcely a hundred feet
when it, too, had to be abandoned. In the meantime the skin boat had
been brought over the ice, and one of the men pointing out another place
where he thought we might ascend, it was the work of but a few minutes
to cross a bit of open water which led to the foot of a steep snowbank,
somewhat discolored from the gravel brought down by melting snow.
Without despairing, and being in that frame of mind prepared to incur
danger to a reasonable extent for the sake of knowledge, we climbed
several hundred feet over the snow and ice, having to cut steps with an
axe that we had brought along, before reaching the top. The latter stage
of this proceeding was like scrambling over the dome of the Washington
Capitol with a great yawning cliff below, and was well calculated to try
the nerve of any one except a competent mountaineer or a sailor
accustomed to a doddering mast. A ravine was next reached, through which
tumbled with loud noise and wild confusion, over broken rocks and amid
some scant lichens and mosses, a stream of pure water, which had
hollowed out a shaft or funnel, forming a glacier mill or moulin. It was
over the roof of this tunnel that we had passed, and it caused an
awesome feeling to come over one to see the water leap down its mouth to
an unseen depth with a loud rumbling noise. After a tiresome ascent of
the ravine, this hitherto inaccessible island, like a standing challenge
of Nature inviting the muscular and ambitious, was at last climbed to
the very summit; and it may be remarked, with pardonable vanity, that
the feat was never done before. The view revealed from the top of the
island was a veritable apocalypse. There was something unique about the
desolate grandeur of the novel surroundings that would cause a man of
the Sir Charles Coldstream type to say there "is something in it," and
the most hackneyed man of the world would acknowledge a new sensation.
It was midnight, and the sun shone with gleaming splendor over all this
waste of ice and sea and granite; on one hand Wrangel Island appeared in
well-defined outline, on the other an open sea extended northward as far
as we were able to make out by the aid of strong glasses. From our
position about the middle of the island the two extreme points of
Wrangel island bore southwest and west-by-south respectively. In shape,
Herald island is something like a boot with a depression at the instep,
and at the westernmost extremity, near which it may be climbed with
considerable ease, are found a number of jagged peaks and splintered
pinnacles of granite, some of which resemble the giant remains of
ancient sculpture, all the worse for exposure to the weather. On a
promontory 1,400 feet high at the northeast point of the island I placed
in a cairn a bottle containing written information of our landing and a
copy of the New York _Herald_ of April 23.[1]

Beyond the extraordinary bird life, no signs of life appeared, except a
small fox, and a Polar bear. The latter put in an appearance just after
we had returned on board at three o'clock in the morning, and the
circumstances attending his slaughter, which were about as enlivening as
shooting a sheep, put an end to this episode of our mission.

After great difficulty in getting out of the ice we ran all day on
Sunday, July 31, along the edge of the pack with Wrangel Island in
sight, but were unable to find a favorable lead that would take us
nearer the land than twelve or fifteen miles. The principal events that
go to make up the record of our cruise for the next ten days were the
finding of a ship's lower yard; the fabulous numbers of eider ducks seen
off the Siberian coast, and the usual encounters with fogs, bears, and

On the morning of August 11, we were so near the unexplored land that we
were most sanguine about getting ashore, although it seemed as if a
journey would have first to be made over the ice. In the afternoon the
chances were so good that I volunteered to go ashore on the ice on the
morning of the 12th in company with Lieutenant Reynolds, Engineer Owen,
and two men. Preparations were made accordingly; the skin boat, rations,
etc., being got ready, and we spent a restless night in anticipating the
events of the coming day. We were called at five o'clock on the morning
of the 12th, and while eating a hurried breakfast the ship steamed
inshore. We were fully prepared for the undertaking; but finding the
leads in the ice more favorable than on the preceding evening, the
little steamer jammed and crashed along in a labyrinthine course not
without great difficulty, for at times she was completely beset by great
masses of ice, which she steamed against at full speed for several
minutes before they showed sign of giving way, and it seemed that all
endeavors to get out of the pack would be futile. Happily, all these
difficulties yielded, and a clear way being seen to a water hole just
off the mouth of a river, we anchored in ten fathoms near some grounded
floebergs, about a quarter of a mile off shore. A boat was then got
away, and on the calm bright morning of August 12, 1881, the first
landing on Wrangel Island was accomplished!

On the beach, composed of black slaty shingle, we found the skeleton of
a whale from which the baleen was absent; also a quantity of driftwood,
some of it twelve inches in diameter; a wooden wedge; a barrel-stave; a
piece of a boat's spar and a fragment of a biscuit-box. The river, which
we named _Clark river_, was about one hundred yards wide, two fathoms
deep near the mouth, and rapid. From the top of a neighboring cliff,
four hundred feet high, it could be seen trending back into the
mountains some thirty or thirty-five miles. The mountains, devoid of
snow, were seen under favorable circumstances through a rift in the
clouds, and appeared brown and naked, with smooth rounded tops. During a
tramp of some miles over a muddy way, composed of argillaceous clay and
black pebbles, I observed fragments of quartz and granite. Several
specimens containing iron pyrites were also found. The cliffs in the
vicinity of our landing are composed of slate, and the land over which I
travelled seemed almost as barren as a macadamized road; but on
searching closely several species of hyperborean plants were found, such
as saxifrages, anemones, grasses, lichens and mushrooms. The mosses and
lichens were but feebly developed, and the phanerogamous plants were in
the same state of severe repression. The following plants were
collected; and I am indebted to Professor John Muir for their names:

_Saxifraga flegellaris_, Willd.
          _stellaris_, L. var. _cornosa_, Poir.
          _sileneflora_, Sternb.
          _hieracifolia_, Waldst. & Kit.
          _rivularis_, L. var. _hyperborea_, Hook.
          _bronchialis_, L.
          _serpyllifolia_, Pursh.
_Anemone parviflora_, Michx.
_Papaver nudicaule_, L.
_Draba alpina_, L.
_Cochleria officinalis_, L.
_Artemisia borealis_, Willd.
_Nardosmia frigida_, Hook.
_Saussurea monticola_, Richards.
_Senecio frigidus_, Less.
_Potentilla nivea_, L.
         _frigida_, Vill. ?
_Armeria macrocarpa_, Pursh.
          _vulgaris_, Willd.
_Stellaria longipes_, Goldie, var. _Edwardsii_, T. & G.
_Cerastium alpinum_, L.
_Gymnandra Stelleri_, Cham. & Schlecht.
_Salix polaris_, Wahl.
_Luzulu hyperborea_, R. Br.
_Poa arctica_, R. Br.
_Aira cæspitosa_, L. var. _Arctica_.
_Alopecurus alpinus_, Smith.

I made a collection of several spiders and of some larvæ. The spider, it
appears, is an "undescribed species of _Erigone_," and the larvæ are
probably lepidopterous. A small shrike was also secured as a specimen.
We saw several species of gulls, a snowy owl--which by the way was very
shy--a few lemmings, and the tracks of foxes and of bears.

Microscopic examination of mud obtained from the bottom, in the vicinity
of our anchorage, revealed some shells of foraminifera. The density of
the sea water, and the dip of the magnetic needle were ascertained here,
as well as at other points in the Arctic; and as the observations are
entirely new, I give the results in the accompanying tables. The water
densities are from observations of Mr. F.E. Owen, Assistant Engineer of
the _Corwin_.

The instruments used in obtaining the results were a thermometer and a
hydrometer. Water was drawn at about six feet below the surface and
heated to a temperature of 200° F., and the saturation, or specific
gravity is shown by the depth to which the hydrometer sank in the water.
As sea water commonly contains one part of saline matter to thirty-two
parts of water, the instrument is marked in thirty-seconds, as 1/32,
2/32, etc., and the densities are fractional parts of one thirty-second:

POINTS OF OBSERVATION.                         Temperature.  Density.

At Saint Michael's, Bering sea                       50       1/4

Off Plover bay, Asia                                 34       3/4

Arctic ocean, near Bering straits                    32       3/4

Arctic ocean, near ice on Siberian coast             32       5/8

Bering sea, off Saint Lawrence island                34       3/4

Golovine bay, Bering sea, July 10                    42       1/2

Bering sea between King's island and Cape Prince
    of Wales, July 12                                44       3/4

Entrance to Kotzebue sound, July 13                  47       3/4

Cape Thompson, Arctic ocean, July 17                 36       3/4

Icy cape, July 24                                    36       3/4

Herald island, in the ice, July 30                   31       3/8

Cape Wankarem, Siberia, August 5                     33       3/4

Wrangel island (surface, in ice), August 12          31       1/2

Wrangel island (below surface 6 feet), August 12     31       5/8


The following table, showing the dip of the magnetic needle, was
prepared from observations made by Lieut. O.D. Myrick:

                     | LATITUDE,  | LONGITUDE, |
                     |  North.    |   West.    |   DIP.
LOCALITY.            | Deg.  Min. | Deg.  Min. | Deg.  Min.
ALASKA--             |            |            |
  Ounalaska          |  53   56   | 166   13   |  66  53.5
  St. Michael's      |  63   27   | 161   37   |  75  00.6
  Kotzebue sound     |  66   03   | 161   47   |  77  05.0
  Cape Sabine        |  68   50   | 165   10   |  78  47.8
  Icy cape           |  70   08   | 161   58   |  79  56.3
  Point Barrow       |  71   23   | 156   15   |  81  18.6
                     |            |            |
ASIA--               |            |            |
  Plover bay         |  64   21   | 173   11   |  73  34.7
  Cape Wankarem      |  67   48   | 175   11   |  77  09.7
  Wrangel island     |  71   04   | 177   40   |  79  52.5

To commemorate our visit, a flag, placed on a pole of driftwood, was
erected on a cliff, and to the staff was secured a wide-mouthed bottle
and a tin cylinder, in which I enclosed information of our landing, etc.
On raising the flag three cheers were given, and a salute was fired from
the cutter in honor of our newly acquired territory.

These evidences of our short visit, which was soon afterward
supplemented by the more extended exploration of the _Rodgers_, having
now become matters of history, it may be remarked with pardonable pride
that the acquisition of this remote island, though of no political or
commercial value, will serve the higher and nobler purpose of a
perpetual reminder of American enterprise, courage and maritime skill.


From an anthropological point of view the Eskimo coming under
observation proved most interesting. The term Eskimo may be held to
include all the Innuit population living on the Aleutian islands, the
islands of Bering sea, and the shores both of Asia and America north of
about latitude 64°. In this latitude on the American coast the ethnical
points that difference the North American from the Eskimo are distinctly
marked. It cannot, however, be said that the designating marks of
distinction are so plain between the American Eskimo and the so-called
Tchuktschi of the Asiatic coast. I have been unable to see anything more
in the way of distinction than exists between Englishmen and Danes, for
instance, or between Norwegians and Swedes. Indeed, it may be said that
much of the confusion and absurdity of classification found in
ethnographic literature may be traced to a tendency to see diversities
where few or none exist. To the observant man of travel who has given
the matter any attention, it seems that the most sensible classification
is that of the ancient writers who divide humanity into three races,
namely, white, yellow, and black. Cuvier adopted this division, and the
best contemporary British authority, Dr. Latham, also makes three
groups, although he varies somewhat in details from Cuvier. In
accordance with the nomenclature of Latham, the Eskimo may be spoken of
as Hyperborean Mongolidæ of essentially carnivorous and ichthyophagous
habits, who have not yet emerged from the hunting and fishing stage.


Their physical appearance and structure having been already described by
others, it is unnecessary to mention them here, except incidentally and
by way of noting a few peculiarities that seem to have been heretofore
overlooked or slightly touched upon by other writers. Although as a rule
they are of short build, averaging about five feet seven inches, yet
occasional exceptions were met with among the natives of Kotzebue sound,
many of whom are tall and of commanding appearance. At Cape Kruzenstern
a man was seen who measured six feet six inches in height. This
divergence from the conventional Eskimo type, as usually described in
the books, may have been caused by inter-marriage with an inland tribe
of larger men from the interior of Alaska, who come to the coast every
summer for purposes of trade.

The complexion, rarely a true white, but rather that of a Chinaman, with
a healthy blush suffusing each cheek, is often of a brownish-yellow and
sometimes quite black, as I have seen in several instances at Tapkan,
Siberia. Nor is the broad and flat face and small nose without
exception. In the vicinity of East cape, the easternmost extremity of
Asia, a few Eskimo were seen having distinctive Hebrew noses and a
physiognomy of such a Jewish type as to excite the attention and comment
of the sailors composing our crew; others were noticed having a Milesian
cast of features and looked like Irishmen, while others resembled
several old mulatto men I know in Washington. However, the Mongoloid
type in these people was so pronounced that our Japanese boys on meeting
Eskimo for the first time took them for Chinamen; on the other hand the
Japs were objects of great and constant curiosity to the Eskimo, who
doubtless took them for compatriots, a fact not to be wondered at, since
there is such a similarity in the shape of the eyes, the complexion, and
hair. In regard to the latter it may be remarked that scarcely anything
on board the _Corwin_ excited greater wonder and merriment among the
Eskimo than the presence of several persons whom Professor Huxley would
classify in his Xanthocroic group because of their fiery red hair.

The structure and arrangement of the hair having lately been proposed as
a race characteristic upon which to base an ethnical classification, I
took pains to collect various specimens of Innuit hair, which, in
conjunction with Dr. Kidder, U.S.N., I examined microscopically and
compared with the hair of fair and blue-eyed persons, the hair of
negroes, and as a matter of curiosity with the reindeer hair and the
hair-like appendage found on the fringy extremity of the baleen plates
in the mouth of a "bowhead" whale. Some microphotographs of these
objects were made but with indifferent results.

To the man willing and anxious to make more extended research into the
matter of race characteristics, I venture to say that a northern
experience will afford him ample opportunity for supplementing Mr.
Murray's paper on the Ethnological Classification of Vermin; and he may
further observe that the Eskimo, whatever may be his religious belief or
predilection, apparently observes the prohibitions of the Talmud in
regard both to filth and getting rid of noxious entomological specimens
that infest his body and habitation.

Whatever modification the bodily structure of the Eskimo may have
undergone under the influence of physical and moral causes, when viewed
in the light of transcendental anatomy, we find that the mode, plan, or
model upon which his animal frame and organs are founded is
substantially that of other varieties of men.

Some writers go so far, in speaking of the Eskimo's correspondence,
mental and physical, to his surroundings as to mention the seal as his
correlative, which, in my opinion, is about as sensible as speaking of
the reciprocal relations of a Cincinnati man and a hog. Unlike the seal,
which is preëminently an amphibian and a swimmer, the Eskimo has no
physical capability of the latter kind, being unable to swim and having
the greatest aversion to water except for purposes of navigation. He
wins our admiration from the expert management at sea of his little
shuttle-shaped canoe, which is a kind of marine bicycle, but I doubt
very much the somersaults he is reported to be able to turn in them. In
fact, after offering rewards of that all-powerful incentive, tobacco, on
numerous occasions, I have been unsuccessful in getting any one of them
to attempt the feat, and when told that we had heard of their doing it
they smiled rather incredulously. The Eskimo are clearly not successes
in a cubistic or saltatorial line, as I have had ample opportunities to
observe. They seem to be unable to do the simplest gymnastics, and were
filled with the greatest delight and astonishment at some exhibitions we
gave them on several occasions. Receiving a challenge to run a foot-race
with an Eskimo, I came off easy winner, although I was handicapped by
being out of condition at the time; a challenge to throw stones also
resulted in the same kind of victory; I shouldered and carried some logs
of driftwood that none of them could lift, and on another occasion the
captain and I demonstrated the physical superiority of the Anglo-Saxon
by throwing a walrus lance several lengths farther than any of the
Eskimo who had provoked the competition. As a rule they are deficient in
biceps, and have not the well-developed muscles of athletic white men.
The best muscular development I saw was among the natives of Saint
Lawrence island, who, by the way, showed me a spot in a village where
they practiced athletic sports, one of these diversions being lifting
and "putting" heavy stones, and I have frankly to acknowledge that a
young Eskimo got the better of me in a competition of this kind. It is
fair to assume that one reason for this physical superiority was the
inexorable law of the survival of the fittest, the natives in question
being the survivors of a recent prevailing epidemic and famine.


As far as my experience goes the Eskimo have not the enormous appetites
with which they are usually accredited. The Eskimo who accompanied
Lieutenant May, of the Nares Expedition, on his sledge journey, is
reported to have been a small eater, and the only case of scurvy, by the
way; several Eskimo who were employed on board the _Corwin_ as
dog-drivers and interpreters were as a rule smaller eaters than our own
men, and I have observed on numerous occasions among the Eskimo I have
visited, that instead of being great gluttons, they are, on the
contrary, moderate eaters. It is, perhaps, the revolting character of
their food--rancid oil, a tray of hot seal entrails, a bowl of
coagulated blood, for example--that causes overestimation of the
quantity eaten. Persons in whom nausea and disgust are awakened at
tripe, putrid game, or moldy and maggoty cheese affected by so-called
epicures, not to mention the bad oysters which George I. preferred to
fresh ones, would doubtless be prejudiced and incorrect observers as to
the quantity of food an Eskimo might consume. From some acquaintance
with the subject I therefore venture to say that the popular notion
regarding the great appetite of the Eskimo is one of the current
fallacies. The reported cases were probably exceptional ones, happening
in subjects who had been exercising and living on little else than
frozen air for perhaps a week. Any vigorous man in the prime of life who
has been shooting all day in the sharp, crisp air of the Arctic will be
surprised at his gastronomic capabilities; and personal knowledge of
some almost incredible instances amongst civilized men might be related,
were it not for fear of being accused of transcending the bounds of


There is so much about certain parts of Alaska to remind one of Scotland
that we wonder why some of the more southern Eskimo have not the
intrepidity and vigor of Scotchmen, since they live under almost the
same topographical conditions amid fogs and misty hills. Perhaps if they
were fed on oatmeal, and could be made to adopt a few of the Scotch
manners and customs, religious and otherwise, they might, after infinite
ages of evolution, develop some of the qualities of that excellent race.
It is probably not so very many generations ago that our British
progenitors were like these original and primitive men as we find them
in the vicinity of Bering straits. Here the mind is taken back over
centuries, and one is able to study the link of transition between the
primitive men of the two continents at the spot where their geographical
relations lead us to suspect it. Indeed, the primitive man may be seen
just as he was thousands of years ago by visiting the village perched
like the eyry of some wild bird about 200 feet up the side of the cliff
at East cape, on the Asiatic side of the straits. This bold, rocky
cliff, rising sheer from the sea to the height of 2,100 feet, consists
of granite, with lava here and there, and the indications point to the
overflow of a vast ice sheet from the north, evidences of which are seen
in the trend of the ridges on the top, and the form of the narrow
peninsula joining the cliff to the mainland. From the summit of the cape
the Diomedes, Fairway Rock, and the American coast are so easily seen
that the view once taken would dispel any doubts as to the possibility
of the aboriginal denizens of America having crossed over from Asia, and
it would require no such statement to corroborate the opinion as that of
an officer of the Hudson Bay Company, then resident in Ungava bay, who
relates that in 1839 an Eskimo family crossed to Labrador from the
northern shore of Hudson's straits on a raft of driftwood. Natives cross
and recross Bering straits to-day on the ice and in primitive skin
canoes, not unlike Cape Cod dories, which have not been improved in
construction since the days of prehistoric man. Indeed, the primitive
man may be seen at East cape almost as he was thousands of years ago.
Evolution and development, with the exception of firearms, seem to have
halted at East cape. The place, with its cave-like dwellings and
skin-clad inhabitants, among whom the presence of white men creates the
same excitement as the advent of a circus among the colored population
of Washington, makes one fancy that he is in some grand prehistoric
museum, and that he has gone backward in time several thousand years in
order to get there.

While we may do something towards tracing the effects of physical agents
on the Eskimo back into the darkness that antedates history, yet his
geographical origin and his antiquity are things concerning which we
know but little. Being subjects of first-class interest, deserving of
grave study and so vast in themselves, they cannot be touched upon here
except incidentally. Attempting to study them is like following the
labyrinthal ice mazes of the Arctic in quest of the North Pole.

We may, however, venture the assertion that the Eskimo is of autocthonic
origin in Asia, but is not autocthonous in America. His arrival there
and subsequent migrations are beyond the reach of history or tradition.
Others, though, contend from the analogy of some of the western tribes
of Brazil, who are identical in feature to the Chinese, that the Eskimo
may have come from South America; and the fashion of wearing labrets,
which is common to the indigenous population both of Chili and Alaska,
has been cited as a further proof.

Touching the subject of early migrations, Mr. Charles Wolcott Brooks,
whose sources of information at command have been exceptionally good,
reports in a paper to the California Academy of Sciences a record of
sixty Japanese junks which were blown off the coast and by the influence
of the Kuro-Shiwo were drifted or stranded on the coast of North
America, or on the Hawaiian or adjacent islands. As merchant ships and
ships of war are known to have been built in Japan prior to the
Christian era, a great number of disabled junks containing small parties
of Japanese must have been stranded on the Aleutian islands and on the
Alaskan coast in past centuries, thereby furnishing evidence of a
constant infusion of Japanese blood among the coast tribes.

Leaving aside any attempt to show the ethnical relations of these facts,
the question naturally occurs whether any of these waifs ever found
their way back from the American coast. On observing the course of the
great circle of the Kuro-Shiwo and the course of the trade winds, one
inclines to the belief that such a thing is not beyond the range of
possibility. Indeed, several well-authenticated instances are mentioned
by Mr. Brooks; and in connection with the subject he advances a further
hypothesis, namely, the American origin of the Chinese race, and shows
in a plausible way that--

     The ancestry of China may have embarked in large vessels as
     emigrants, perhaps from the vicinity of the Chincha Islands, or
     proceeded with a large fleet, like the early Chinese expedition
     against Japan, or that of Julius Cæsar against Britain, or the
     Welsh Prince Madog and his party, who sailed from Ireland and
     landed in America A.D. 1170; and, in like manner, in the dateless
     antecedure of history, crossed from the neighborhood of Peru to the
     country now known to us as China.

If America be the oldest continent, paleontologically speaking, as
Agassiz tells us, there appears to be some reason for looking to it as
the spot where early traces of the race are to be found, and the fact
would seem to warrant further study and investigation in connection with
the indigenous people of our continent, thereby awakening new sources of
inquiry among ethnologists.


The sienite plummet from San Joaquin Valley, California, goes back to
the distant age of the Drift; and the Calaveras skull, admitting its
authenticity, goes back to the Pliocene epoch, and is older than the
relics or stone implements from the drift gravel and the European caves.

It is doubtful, though, whether these data enable us to make
generalizations equal in value to those afforded by the study of
vocabularies. It is alleged that linguistic affinities exist between
some of the tribes of the American coast and our Oriental neighbors
across the Pacific. Mr. Brooks, whom I have already quoted, reports that
in March, 1860, he took an Indian boy on board the Japanese steam
corvette _Kanrin-maru_, where a comparison of Coast-Indian and pure
Japanese was made at his request by Funkuzawa Ukitchy, then Admiral's
secretary; the result of which he prepared for the press and published
with a view to suggesting further linguistic investigations. He says
that quite an infusion of Japanese words is found among some of the
Coast tribes of Oregon and California, either pure or clipped, along
with some very peculiar Japanese "idioms, constructions, honorific,
separative, and agglutinative particles"; that shipwrecked Japanese are
invariably enabled to communicate understandingly with the Coast
Indians, although speaking quite a different language, and that many
shipwrecked Japanese have informed him that they were enabled to
communicate with and understand the natives of Atka and Adakh islands of
the Aleutian group.

With a view to finding out whether any linguistic affinity existed
between Japanese and the Eskimo dialects in the vicinity of Bering
straits, I caused several Japanese boys, employed as servants on board
the _Corwin_, to talk on numerous occasions to the natives both of the
American and Asiatic coasts; but in every instance they were unable to
understand the Eskimo, and assured me that they could not detect a
single word that bore any resemblance to words in their own language.

The study of the linguistic peculiarities which distinguish the
population around Bering straits offers an untrodden path in a new
field; but it is doubtful whether the results, except to linguists like
Cardinal Mezzofanti, or philologists of the Max Müller type, would be at
all commensurate with the efforts expended in this direction, since it
is asserted that the human voice is incapable of articulating more than
twenty distinct sounds, therefore whatever resemblances there may be in
the particular words of different languages are of no ethnic value.
Although these may be the views of many persons not only in regard to
the Eskimo tongue but in regard to philology in general, the matter has
a wonderful fascination for more speculative minds.

Much has been said about the affinity of language among the Eskimo--some
asserting that it is such as to allow mutual intercourse everywhere--but
instances warrant us in concluding that considerable deviations exist in
their vocabularies, if not in the grammatical construction. For
instance, take two words that one hears oftener than any others: On the
Alaska coast they say "na-koo-ruk," a word meaning "good," "all right,"
etc.; on the Siberian coast "mah-zink-ah," while a vocabulary collected
during Lieutenant Schwatka's expedition gives the word "mah-muk'-poo"
for "good." The first two of these words are so characteristic of the
tribes on the respective shores above the straits that a better
designation than any yet given to them by writers on the subject would
be _Nakoorooks_ for the people on the American side and _Mazinkahs_ for
those on the Siberian coast. These names, by which they know each
other, are in general use among the whalemen and were adopted by every
one on board the _Corwin_.

Again, on the American coast "Am-a-luk-tuk" signifies plenty, while on
the Siberian coast it is "Num-kuck-ee." "Tee-tee-tah" means needles in
Siberia, in Alaska it is "mitkin." In the latter place when asking for
tobacco they say "te-ba-muk," while the Asiatics say "salopa." That a
number of dialects exists around Bering straits is apparent to the most
superficial observer. The difference in the language becomes apparent
after leaving Norton sound. The interpreter we took from Saint Michael's
could only with difficulty understand the natives at Point Barrow, while
at Saint Lawrence island and on the Asiatic side he could understand
nothing at all. At East cape we saw natives who, though apparently
alike, did not understand each other's language. I saw the same thing at
Cape Prince of Wales, the western extremity of the New World, whither a
number of Eskimo from the Wankarem river, Siberia, had come to trade.
Doubtless there is a community of origin in the Eskimo tongue, and these
verbal divergencies may be owing to the want of written records to give
fixity to the language, since languages resemble living organisms by
being in a state of continual change. Be that as it may, we know that
this people has imported a number of words from coming in contact with
another language, just as the French have incorporated into their speech
"le steppeur," "l'outsider," "le high life," "le steeple chase," "le
jockey club," etc.--words that have no correlatives in French--so the
Eskimo has appropriated from the whalers words which, as verbal
expressions of his ideation, are undoubtedly better than anything in his
own tongue. One of these is "by and by," which he uses with the same
frequency that a Spaniard does his favorite _mañana por la mañano_. In
this instance the words express the state of development and habits of
thought--one the lazy improvidence of the Eskimo, and the other the
"to-morrow" of the Spaniard, who has indulged that propensity so far
that his nation has become one of yesterday.

The change of the Eskimo language brought about by its coming in contact
with another forms an important element in its history, and has been
mentioned by the older writers, also by Gilder, who reports a change in
the language of the Iwillik Eskimo to have taken place since the advent
among them of the white men. Among other peculiarities of their
phraseology occurs the word "tanuk," signifying whiskey, and it is said
to have originated with an old Eskimo employed by Moore as a guide and
dog-driver when he wintered in Plover bay. Every day about noon that
personage was in the habit of taking his appetizer and usually said to
the Eskimo, "Come, Joe, let's take our tonic." Like most of his
countrymen, Joe was not slow to learn the meaning of the word, and to
this day the firm hold "tanuk" has on the language is only equalled by
the thirst for the fluid which the name implies. Among the Asiatic
Eskimo the word "um-muck" is common for "rum," while "em-mik" means
water. Even words brought by whalers from the South Sea islands have
obtained a footing, such as "kow-kow" for food, a word in general use,
and "pow" for "no," or "not any." They also call their babies
"pick-a-nee-nee," which to many persons will suggest the Spanish word or
the Southern negro idiom for "baby." The phrase "pick-a-nee-nee kowkow"
is the usual formula in begging food for their children. An Eskimo,
having sold us a reindeer, said it would be "mazinkah kow-kow" (good
eating), and one windy day we were hauling the seine, and an Eskimo
seeing its empty condition when pulled on to the beach, said, "'Pow'
fish; bimeby 'pow' wind, plenty fish."

The fluency with which some of these fellows speak a mixture of pigeon
English and whaleman's jargon is quite astonishing, and suggests the
query whether their fluency results from the aggressiveness of the
English or is it an evidence of their aptitude? It seems wonderful how a
people we are accustomed to look upon as ignorant, benighted and
undeveloped, can learn to talk English with a certain degree of fluency
and intelligibility from the short intercourse held once a year with a
few passing ships. How many "hoodlums" in San Francisco, for instance,
learn anything of Norwegian or German from frequenting the wharves? How
many "wharf rats" or stevedores in New York learn anything of these
languages from similar intercourse? Or, for that matter, we may ask, How
many New York pilots have acquired even the smallest modicum of French
from boarding the steamers of the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique?

From a few examples it will be seen that the usage followed by the
Eskimo in its grammatical variations rests on the fixity of the radical
syllable and upon the agglomeration of the different particles intended
to modify the primitive sense of this root, that is to say upon the
principle of agglutinative languages. One or two instances may suffice
to show the agglutinate character of the language. Canoe is "o-me-uk;"
ship "o-me-uk-puk;" steamer "o-me-uk-puk-ignelik;" and this composite
mechanical structure reaches its climax in steam-launch, which they
call "o-me-uk-puk-ignelik-pick-a-nee-nee."

For snow and ice in their various forms there are also many words which
show further the polysynthetic structure of the language--a fact
contrary to that primitive condition of speech where there are no
inflections to indicate the relations of the words to each other. It
will not do to omit "O-kee-chuck" from this enumeration--a word
signifying trade, barter, or sale, and one most commonly heard among
these people. When they wish to say a thing is bad they use "A-shu-ruk,"
and when disapproval is meant they say "pe-chuk." The latter word also
expresses general negation. For instance, on looking into several
unoccupied houses a native informs us "Innuit pechuk," meaning that the
people are away or not at home; "Allopar" is cold, and "allopar pechuk"
is hot. Persons fond of tracing resemblances may find in "Ignik" (fire)
a similarity to the Latin _ignis_ or the English "ignite," and from
"Un-gi doo-ruk" (big, huge) the transition down to "hunky-dory" is easy.
Those who see a sort of complemental relation to each other of
linguistic affinity and the conformity in physical characters may infer
from "Mikey-doo-rook" (a term of endearment equivalent to "Mavourneen"
and used in addressing little children) that the inhabitants within the
Polar Circle have something of the Emerald Isle about them. But no, they
are not Irish, for when they are about to leave the ship or any other
place for their houses they say "to hum"; consequently they are Yankees.

I do not wish to be thought frivolous in my notions regarding the noble
science of philology; but when one considers the changes that language
is constantly undergoing, the inability of the human voice to articulate
more than twenty distinct sounds, and the wonderful amount of ingenious
learning that has been wasted by philologists on trifling subjects, one
is disposed to associate many of their deductions with the savage
picture-writing on Dighton Rock, the Cardiff Giant, and the old
wind-mill at Newport.


Attempts to trace or discover the origin of races through supposed
philological analogies do not possess the advantage of certainty
afforded by the study of the means by which individuals of the race
supply the continuous demands of the body with the nutriment necessary
to maintain life and health.

Everybody has heard of the seal, bear, walrus, and whale in connection
with Eskimo dietetics, and doubtless the stomachs of most persons would
revolt at the idea of eating these animals, the taste for which, by the
way, is merely a matter of early education or individual preference, for
there is no good reason why they should not be just as palatable to the
northern appetite as pig, sheep, and beef are to the inhabitants of
temperate latitudes. As food they renew the nitrogenous tissues,
reconstruct the parts and restore the functions of the Eskimo frame,
prolong his existence, and produce the same animal contentment and joy
as the more civilized viands of the white man's table. There are more
palatable things than bear or eider duck, yet I know many persons to
whom snails, olive oil, and _paté de fois gras_ are more repugnant. A
tray full of hot seal entrails, a bowl of coagulated blood, and putrid
fish are not very inviting or lickerish to ordinary mortals, yet they
have their analogue in the dish of some farmers who eat a preparation of
pig's bowels known as "chitterlings," and in the blood-puddings and
Limburger cheese of the Germans. Blubber-oil and whale are not very
dainty dishes, yet consider how many families subsist on half-baked
saleratus biscuits, salted pork, and oleomargarine.

On the mess table of the Fur Company's establishment at St. Paul island,
seal meat is a daily article of consumption, and from personal
experience I can testify as to its palatability, although it reminded
one of indifferent beef rather overdone. Hair seal and bear steaks were
on different occasions tried at the mess on board the Corwin, but
everybody voted eider duck and reindeer the preference. It is not so
very long since that whale was a favorite article of diet in England and
Holland, and Arctic whalemen still, to my personal knowledge, use the
freshly tried oil in cooking; for instance in frying cakes, for which
they say it answers the purpose as well as the finest lard, while others
breakfast on whale and potatoes prepared after the manner of codfish
balls. The whale I have tasted is rather insipid eating, yet it appears
to be highly nutritious, judging from the well-nourished look of natives
who have lived on it, and the air of greasy abundance and happy
contentment that pervades an Eskimo village just after the capture of a
whale. Being ashore one day with our pilot, we met a native woman whom
he recognized as a former acquaintance, and on remarking to her that she
had picked up in flesh since he last saw her, she replied that she had
been living on a whale all the Winter, which explained her plumpness.

It must not be supposed, however, that the whale, seal and walrus
constitute the entire food supply of the Arctic. There is scarcely any
more toothsome delicacy than reindeer, the tongue of which is very
dainty and succulent. There is one peculiarity about its flesh--in
order to have it in perfection it must be eaten very soon after being
killed; the sooner the better, for it deteriorates in flavor the longer
it is kept. Indeed, the Eskimo do not wait for the animal heat to leave
the carcass, as they eat the brains and paunch hot and smoking.

While our gastronomic enthusiasm did not extend this far, we dined
occasionally on fresh trout from a Siberian mountain lake, young wild
ducks as fat as squabs, and reindeer, any of which delicacies could not
be had in the same perfection at Delmonico's or any similar
establishment in New York for love or money. There is scarcely any
better eating in the way of fish than _coregonus_--a new species
discovered at Point Barrow by the _Corwin_--and certainly no more dainty
game exists than the young wild geese and ptarmigan to be found in
countless numbers in Hotham inlet. At the latter place, doubtless the
warmest inside the straits, are found quantities of cranberries about
the size of a pea, which not only make a delicious accessory to roasted
goose, but act as a valuable antiscorbutic. These berries and a kind of
kelp, which I have seen Eskimo eating at Tapkan, Siberia, seem to be the
only vegetable food they have. The large quantities of eggs easily
procurable, but in most cases doubtful, also constitute a standard
article of diet among these people, who have no scruples about eating
them partly hatched. They seemed never to comprehend our fastidiousness
in the matter and why our tastes differed so much from theirs in this
respect. They will break an egg containing an embryonic duck or goose,
extract the bird by one leg and devour it with all the relish of an
epicure. Gull's eggs, however, are in disrepute among them, for the
women--who, by the way, have the same frailties and weaknesses as their
more civilized sisters--believe that eating gull's eggs causes loss of
beauty and brings on early decrepitude. The men, on the other hand, are
fond of seal eyes, a tid-bit which the women believe increases their
amorousness, and feed to their lords after the manner of "Open your
mouth and shut your eyes."

Game is, as a rule, very tame, and during the moulting season, when the
geese are unable to fly, it is quite possible to kill them with a stick.
At one place, Cape Thompson, Eskimo were seen catching birds from a high
cliff with a kind of scoop-net, and I saw birds at Herald island refuse
to move when pelted with stones, so unaccustomed were they to the
presence of man. In addition to being very tame, game is plentiful, and
it is not uncommon, off the Siberian coast, to see flocks of eider ducks
darkening the air and occupying several hours in passing overhead. It
was novel sport to see the natives throw a projectile known as an
"apluketat" into one of these flocks with astonishing range and
accuracy, bringing down the game with the effectiveness of a shotgun.

Game keeps so well in the Arctic that an instance is known of its being
perfectly sweet and sound on an English ship after two years' keeping,
and whalemen kill a number of pigs, which they hang in the rigging and
keep for use during the cruise. It is also noticeable that leather
articles do not mildew as they generally do at sea, some shoes kept in a
locker on board the _Corwin_ having retained their polish during the
entire cruise.

The food of the Eskimo satisfies their instinctive craving for a
hydrocarbon, but they do not allow themselves to be much disturbed or
distracted in its preparation, as most of it is eaten raw. They
occasionally boil their food, however, and some of them have learned the
use of flour and molasses, of which they are very fond.

Their aversion to salt is a very marked peculiarity, and they will not
eat either corned beef or pork on this account. It may be that
physiological reasons exist for this dislike.


Omitting other ethnographic facts relative to the Eskimo, which might be
treated in a systematic way except for their triteness, we pass from the
means of the renewal of the animal economy to its reproduction.
Courtship and marriage, which, it is said, are conducted in the most
unsentimental manner possible, are for that reason not to be discussed;
and for obvious reasons many of the prenatal conditions cannot here be
dwelt upon. Having never witnessed the act of parturition in an Eskimo
my knowledge of the subject is merely second-hand, and consequently not
worth detailing. It appears, though, that parturition is a function
easily performed among them, and that it is unattended by the
post-partum accidents common to civilization. As a rule the women are
unprolific, it being uncommon to find a family numbering over three
children, and the mortality among the new-born is excessive, owing to
the ignorance and neglect of the ordinary rules of hygiene. They seem,
however, to be kind to their children, who in respect to crying do not
show the same peevishness as seen in our nurseries; indeed, the social
and demonstrative good nature of the race seems to crop out even in
babyhood, as I have often witnessed under such circumstances as a baby
enveloped in furs in a skin canoe which lay along side the ship during a
snowstorm; its tiny hands protruding held a piece of blubber, which it
sucked with apparent relish, the unique picture of happy contentment. It
was quick to feel itself an object of attraction, and its chubby face
returned any number of smiles of recognition.

The manner of carrying the infant is contrary to that of civilized
custom. It is borne on the back under the clothes of the mother, which
form a pouch, and from which its tiny head is generally visible over one
or the other shoulder, but on being observed by strangers it shrinks
like a snail or a marsupian into its snug retreat. When the mother wants
to remove it she bends forward, at the same time passing her left hand
up the back under her garments, and seizing the child by the feet, pulls
it downward to the left; then, passing the right hand under the front of
the dress, she again seizes the feet and extracts it by a kind of
podalic delivery. Another common way of carrying children is astride the
neck. The subject is one that the Chucki artist often carves in ivory.

The play impulse manifests itself among these people in various ways.
They have such mimetic objects as dolls, miniature boats, etc. I have
seen a group of boys, sailing toy boats in a pond, behave under the
circumstances just as a similar group has been observed to do at
Provincetown, Cape Cod, and the same act, as performed in the Frog Pond
of the Boston Common, may be called only a differentiated form of the
same tendency. Their dolls, of ivory and clothed with fur, seem to
answer the same purpose that they do in civilized communities--namely,
the amusement of little girls--for at one place where we landed a number
of Eskimo girls, stopping play on our approach, sat their dolls up in a
row, evidently with a view to giving the dolls a better look at the
strange visitors. Spinning tops, essentially Eskimo and unique in their
character, are held in the hand while spinning; on the Siberian coast
football is played, and among other questionable things acquired from
contact with the whalemen, a knowledge of card-playing exists. We were
very often asked for cards, and at one place where we stopped and
bartered a number of small articles with the natives they gave evidence
of their aptitude at gaming. The game being started, with the bartered
articles as stakes, one fellow soon scooped in everything, leaving the
others to go off dead-broke, amid the ridicule of some of our crew, and
doubtless feeling worse than dead, for among no people that I have seen,
not even the French, does ridicule so effectually kill.


Among the means taken by these people to produce personal ornamentation
that of tattooing the face and wearing a labret is the most noticeable.
The custom of tattooing having existed from the earliest historical
epochs is important, not only from an ethnological but from a medical
and pathological point of view, and even in its relation to medical
jurisprudence in cases of contested personal identity.

Without going into the history of the subject, it may not be irrelevant
to mention that tattooing was condemned by the Fathers of the Church,
Tertullian, among others, who gives the following rather singular reason
for interdicting its use among women: "Certi sumus Spiritum Sanctum
magis masculis tale aliquid subscribere potuisse si feminis

In addition to much that has been written by French and German writers,
the matter of tattoo-marks has of late claimed the attention of the law
courts of England, the Chief-Justice, Cockburn, in the Tichbourne case,
having described this species of evidence as of "vital importance," and
in itself final and conclusive. The absence of the tattoo-marks in this
case justified the jury in their finding that the defendant was not and
could not be Roger Tichbourne, whereupon the alleged claimant was proved
to be an impostor, found guilty of perjury, and sentenced to penal

[Illustration: Style of personal ornamentation adopted by the women of
Saint Lawrence island.]

Why the ancient habit of tattooing should prevail so extensively among
some of the primitive tribes as it does, for instance, in the Polynesian
islands and some parts of Japan, and we may say as a survival of a
superstitious practice of paganism among sailors and others, is a
psychological problem difficult to solve. Whether it be owing to
perversion of the sexual instinct, which is not unlikely, or to other
cause, it is not proposed to discuss. Be that as it may, the prevalence
of the habit among the Eskimo is confined to the female sex, who are
tattooed on arriving at the age of puberty. The women of Saint Lawrence
island, in addition to lines on the nose, forehead and chin, have
uniformly a figure of strange design on the cheeks, which is suggestive
of cabalistic import. It could not be ascertained, however, whether such
is the case. The lines drawn on the chin were exactly like the ones I
have seen on Moorish women in Morocco. Another outlandish attempt at
adornment was witnessed at Cape Blossom in a woman who wore a bunch of
colored beads suspended from the septum of her nose. These habits,
however, hardly seem so revolting as the use of the labret by the
"Mazinka" men on the American coast, of whom it is related that a sailor
seeing one of them for the first time, and observing the slit in the
lower lip through which the native thrust his tongue, thought he had
discovered a man with two mouths. The use of the labret, like many of
the attempts at primitive ornamentation, is very old, its use having
been traced by Dall along the American coast from the lower part of
Chili to Alaska. Persons fond of tracing, vestiges of savage
ornamentation amid intellectual advancement and æsthetic sensibility far
in advance of the primitive man, may observe in the wearers of bangles
and earrings the same tendency existing in a differentiated form.


I doubt whether Shakespeare's dictum in regard to music holds good when
applied to the Eskimo, for they have but little music in their souls,
and among no people is there such a noticeable absence of "treason,
stratagem and spoil." A rude drum and a monotonous chant, consisting
only of the fundamental note and minor third, are the only things in the
way of music among the more remote settlements of which I have any
knowledge. Mrs. Micawber's singing has been described as the table-beer
of acoustics. Eskimo singing is something more. The beer has become flat
by the addition of ice. One of our engineers, who is quite a fiddler,
experimented on his instrument with a view to seeing what effect music
would have on the "savage breast," but his best efforts at rendering
"Madame Angot" and the "Grande Duchesse" were wasted before an
unsympathetic audience, who showed as little appreciation of his
performance as some people do when listening to Wagner's "Music of the

Where they have come in contact with civilization their musical taste is
more developed. At Saint Michael's I was told that some of their songs
are so characteristic that it is much to be regretted that some of them
cannot be bottled up in a phonograph and sent to a musical composer. On
the coast of Siberia I heard an Eskimo boy sing correctly a song he had
learned while on board a whaling vessel, and on several of the Aleutian
islands the natives play the accordeon quite well; have music-boxes, and
even whistle strains from "Pinafore."

From music to dancing the transition is obvious, no matter whether the
latter be regarded in a Darwinian sense as a device to attract the
opposite sex or as the expression of joyous excitement. This
manifestation of feeling in its bodily discharge, which Moses and Miriam
and David indulged in, which is ranked with poetry by Aristotle, and
which old Homer says is the sweetest and most perfect of human
enjoyments, is a pastime much in vogue among the Eskimo, and it required
but little provocation to start a dance at any time on the _Corwin's_
decks when a party happened to be on board. The dancing, however, had
not the cadence of "a wave of the sea," nor was there the harmony of
double rotation circling in a series of graceful curves to strains like
those of Strauss or Gungl. On the contrary, there was something
saltatorial and jerky about all the dancing I saw both among the men and
women. It is the custom at some of their gatherings, after the hunting
season is over, for the men to indulge in a kind of terpsichorean
performance, at the same time relating in Homeric style the heroic deeds
they have done. At other times the women do all the dancing. Being
stripped to the waist they are more _décolleté_ than our beauties at the
German, and the men take the part of spectators only in this
choreographical performance.


The aptitude shown by Eskimo in carving and drawing has been noticed by
all travellers among them. Some I have met with show a degree of
intelligence and appreciation in regard to charts and pictures scarcely
to be expected from such a source. From walrus ivory they sculpture
figures of birds, quadrupeds, marine animals, and even the human form,
which display considerable individuality notwithstanding their crude
delineation and imperfect detail. I have also seen a fair carving of a
whale in plumbago. Evidences of decoration are sometimes seen on their
canoes, on which are found rude pictures of walruses, etc., and they
have a kind of picture-writing, by means of which they commemorate
certain events in their lives, just as Sitting Bull has done in an
autobiography that may be seen at the Army Medical Museum.

When we were searching for the missing whalers off the Siberian coast,
some natives were come across with whom we were unable to communicate
except by signs, and wishing to let them know the object of our visit, a
ship was drawn in a note-book and shown to them, with accompanying
gesticulations, which they quickly comprehended, and one fellow, taking
the pencil and note-book, drew correctly a pair of reindeer horns on the
ship's jib-boom--a fact which identified, beyond doubt, the derelict
vessel they had seen. At Point Hope an Eskimo, who had allowed us to
take sketches of him, desired to sketch one of the party, and taking one
of our note-books and a pencil, neither of which he ever had in his hand
before, produced the accompanying likeness of Professor Muir:


At Saint Michael's there is an Eskimo boy who draws remarkably well,
having taught himself by copying from the _Illustrated London News_. He
made a correct pen-and-ink drawing of the _Corwin_, and another of the
group of buildings at Saint Michael's, which, though creditable in many
respects, had the defect of many Chinese pictures, being faulty in
perspective. As these drawings equal those in Dr. Rink's book, done by
Greenland artists, I regret my inability to reproduce them here. As
evidences of culture they show more advancement than the carvings of
English rustics that a clergyman has caused to be placed on exhibition
at the Kensington Museum.

Sir John Ross speaks highly of his interpreter as an artist; Beechy says
that the knowledge of the coast obtained by him from Innuit maps was of
the greatest value, while Hall and others show their geographical
knowledge to be as perfect as that possible of attainment by civilized
men unaided by instruments. I had frequent opportunities to observe
these Eskimo ideas of chartography. They not only understood reading a
chart of the coast when showed to them, but would make tracings of the
unexplored part, as I knew a native to do in the case of an Alaskan
river, the mouth only of which was laid down on our chart.

Manifestation of the plastic art, which is found among tribes less
intelligent, is rare among the Eskimo. In fact, the only thing of the
kind seen was some rude pottery at Saint Lawrence island, the design of
which showed but crude development of ornamental ideas. The same state
of advancement was shown in some drinking cups carved from mammoth ivory
and a dipper made from the horn of a mountain sheep.


In one of the acts of Shakespeare's "Seven Ages" the Eskimo plays a very
unimportant _rôle_. Perhaps in no other race is the combative instinct
less predominant; in none is quarrelling, fierceness of disposition, and
jealousy more conspicuously absent, and in none does the desire for the
factitious renown of war exist in a more rudimentary and undeveloped
state. Perhaps the constant fight with cold and hunger is a compensation
which must account for the absence of such unmitigated evils as war,
taxes, complex social organization and hierarchy among the curious
people of the icy north. The pursuits of peace and of simple patriarchal
lives, notwithstanding the fact of much in connection therewith that is
wretched, and forbidding to a civilized man, seem to beget in these
people a degree of domestic tranquility and contentment which, united to
their light-hearted and cheery disposition, is an additional reason for
believing the sum of human happiness to be constant throughout the


The intellectual character of the Eskimo, judging from the information
which various travellers have furnished, as well as my personal
knowledge, produces more than a feeble belief in the possibility of
their being equal to anything they choose to take an interest in
learning. The Eskimo is not "muffled imbecility," as some one has called
him, nor is he dull and slow of understanding, as Vitruvius describes
the northern nation to be "from breathing a thick air"--which, by the
way, is thin, elastic and highly ozonized--nor is he, according to Dr.
Beke, "degenerated almost to the lowest state compatible with the
retention of rational endowments." On the contrary, the old Greenland
missionary, Hans Egede, writes: "I have found some of them witty enough
and of good capacity;" Sir Martin Frobisher says they are "in nature
very subtle and sharp-witted;" Sir Edward Parry, while extolling their
honesty and good nature, adds, "Indeed, it required no long acquaintance
to convince us that art and education might easily have made them equal
or superior to ourselves;" Sauer tells of a woman who learned to speak
Russian fluently in rather less than twelve months, and Beechy and
others have acknowledged the intelligent help they have received from
Eskimo in making their explorations.

Before going further, it may not be amiss to speak in a general way of
the bony covering which protects the organ whose function it is to
generate the vibrations known as thought. Of one hundred crania,
collected principally at Saint Lawrence island, a number were examined
by me at the Army Medical Museum, through the courtesy of Dr.
Huntington, with the result of changing and greatly modifying some of
the previous notions of the conventional Eskimo skull as acquired from
books on craniology. Perhaps after the inspection and examination of a
large collection of crania, it may be safe to pronounce upon their
differential character; but whether the differences in configuration are
constant or only occasional manifestations, admits of as much doubt as
the exceptions in Professor Sophocles's Greek grammar, which are often
coextensive with the rule.[4]

The typical Eskimo skull, according to popular notion, is one exhibiting
a low order of intelligence, and characterized by small brain capacity,
with great prominence of the superciliary ridges, occipital
protuberance and zygomatic arches, the latter projecting beyond the
general contour of the skull like the handles of a jar or a peach
basket; and lines drawn from the most projecting part of the arches and
touching the sides of the frontal bone are supposed to meet over the
forehead, forming a triangle, for which reason the skull is known as

The first specimen, examined from a vertical view, shows something of
the typical character as figured in A, and when viewed posteriorly there
is noticed a flattening of the parietal walls with an elongated vertex
as shown in D; while a second specimen, represented by B, shows none of
the foregoing characteristics, the form being elongated and the parietal
walls so far overhanging as to conceal the zygomatic arches in the
vertical view, so that if lines be drawn as previously mentioned,
instead of forming a triangle they may, like the asymptotes of a
parabola, be extended to infinity and never meet.

For purposes of comparison a number of orthographic outlines, showing
the contour of civilized crania, from a vertical point of observation,
are herewith annexed. No. 1 is that of an eminent mathematician who
committed suicide; No. 2, a prominent politician during the civil war;
No. 3, a banker; and No. 4, a notorious assassin. Nos. 5 and 6 are negro
skulls. Further comparison may be made with the Jewish skull, as
represented in No. 7, in which the nasal bones project so far beyond the
general contour as to form a bird-like appendage.

[Illustration: A]

[Illustration: B]

[Illustration: C]

[Illustration: D]

A collection of Aleutian heads, as seen from a vertical point of
observation, when I looked down from the gallery of the little Greek
church at Ounalaska, presented at first certain collective characters
by which they approach one another. But anatomists know that a careful
comparison of any collection will show extremely salient differences. In
fact, individual differences, so numerous and so irregular as to prevent
methodical enumeration, constitute the stumbling-block of ethnic
craniology. Take, for instance, a number of the skulls under
consideration: in proportions they will be found to present very
considerable variations among themselves. The skulls figured by A and B
are respectively brachycephalic and dolichocephalic. The former has an
internal capacity of 1,400, the latter 1,214 cubic centimeters; but the
facial angle of each is 80°, and in one Eskimo cranium it runs up to
84°. If the facial angle be trustworthy, as a measure of the degree of
intelligence, we have shown here a development far in excess of the
negro, which is placed at 70°, or of the Mongolian at 75°, and exceeding
that observed by me in many German skulls, which do not, as a rule, come
up to the 90° of Jupiter Tonans or of Cuvier, in spite of the boasted
intelligence of that nationality.

[Illustration: _No. 1._]

[Illustration: _No. 2._]

[Illustration: _No. 3._]

[Illustration: _No. 4._]

[Illustration: _No. 5._]

[Illustration: _No. 6._]

In none of the skulls of the collection is there observable the heavy
superciliary ridges alleged to be common in lower races, but which exist
in many of the best-formed European crania--shall we say as anomalies
or as individual variations? Nor is the convexity of the squamo-parietal
suture such as characterizes the low-typed cranium of the chimpanzee or
the Mound Builder. On the contrary, the orbits are cleanly made and the
suture is well curved. Besides, a low degree of intelligence is not
shown by observing the index of the foramen magnum, which is about the
same as that found in European crania; and the same may be said of the
internal capacity of the cranium. To illustrate the latter remark is
appended a tabular statement made up from Welcker, Broca, Aitken and

                   Cubic centimeters.

Australian              1,228
Polynesian              1,230
Hottentot               1,230
Mexican                 1,296
Malay                   1,328
Ancient Peruvian        1,361
French             1,403 to 1,461
German                  1,448
English                 1,572

An average of the Eskimo skull, some of which measure as much as 1,650
and 1,715 c.c., will show the brain capacity to be the same as that of
the French or of the Germans. None of them, however, approaches the
anomalous capacities of two Indian skulls on exhibition at the Army
Medical Museum, one of which shows 1,785 c.c., and the other the
unprecedented measurement of 1,920 c.c.

If the foregoing means for estimating the mental grasp and capacity for
improvement be correct, then we must accord to the most northern nation
of the globe a fair degree of brain energy--potential though it be.
Aside from the mere physical methods of determining the degree of
intelligence, it is urged by some writers, among them the historian
Robertson, that tact in commerce and correct ideas of property are
evidence of a considerable progress toward civilization. The natural
inference from this is that they are tests of intellectual power, since
mind is a combination of all the actual and possible states of
consciousness of the organism, and an examination of the Eskimo system
of trade draws its own conclusion. Their fondness for trade has been
known for a long time, as well as the extended range of their commercial
intercourse. They trade with the Indians, with the fur companies, the
whalers and among themselves across Bering straits. Many of them are
veritable Shylocks, having a through comprehension of the axiom in
political economy regarding the regulation of the price of a thing by
the demand.

[Illustration: _No. 7._]


With the aptitudes and instincts of our common humanity Eskimo morals,
as manifested in truth, right and virtue, also admit of remark. Except
where these people have had the bad example of the white man, whose
vices they have imitated, not on account of defective moral nature, but
because they saw few or no virtues, they are models of truthfulness and
honesty. In fact their virtues in this respect are something phenomenal.
The same cannot be said, however, for their sexual morals, which, as a
rule, are the contrary of good. Even a short stay among the hyperboreans
causes one to smile at Lord Kames's "frigidity of the North Americans,"
and at the fallacy of Herder who says, "the blood of man near the pole
circulates but slowly, the heart beats but languidly; consequently the
married live chastely, the women almost require compulsion to take upon
them the troubles of a married life," etc. Nearly the same idea
expressed by Montesquieu, and repeated by Byron in "happy the nations of
the moral North," are statements so at variance with our experience that
this fact must alone excuse a reference to the subject. So far are they
from applying to the people in question that it is only necessary to
mention, without going into detail, that the women are freely offered to
strangers by way of hospitality, showing a decided preference for white
men, whom they believe to beget better offspring than their own men. In
this regard one is soon convinced that salacious and prurient tastes are
not the exclusive privilege of people living outside of the Arctic
Circle; and observation favors the belief in the existence of pederasty
among Eskimo, if one may be allowed to judge from circumstances, which
it is not necessary to particularize, and from a word in their language
signifying the act.

Since morality is the last virtue acquired by man and the first one he
is likely to lose, it is not so surprising to find outrages on morals
among the undeveloped inhabitants of the north as it is to find them in
intelligent Christian communities among people whose moral sense ought
to be far above that of the average primitive man in view of their
associations and the variations that have been so frequently repeated
and accumulated by heredity; and where there is no hierarchy nor
established missionaries it is still more surprising to find any moral
sense at all among a people whose vague religious belief does not extend
beyond Shamanism or Animism, which to them explains the more strange and
striking natural phenomena by the hypothesis of direct spiritual agency.

It must not be understood by this, however, that these people have no
religion, as many travellers have erroneously believed; that would be
almost equivalent to stating that races of men exist without speech,
memory or knowledge of fire. A purely ethnological view of religion
which regards it as "the feeling which falls upon man in the presence of
the unknown," favors the idea that the children of the icy north have
many of the same feelings in this respect as those experienced by
ourselves under similar conditions, although there is doubtless a change
in us produced by more advanced thought and nicer feeling. On the other
hand, how many habits and ideas that are senseless and perfectly
unexplainable by the light of our present modes of life and thought can
be explained by similar customs and prejudices existing among these
distant tribes. Is there no fragment of primitive superstition or
residue of bygone ages in the supposed influence of the "Evil Eye" in
Ireland, or in the habit of "telling the bees" in Germany? Is there not
something of intellectual fossildom in the popular notion about Friday
and thirteen at table, and in the ancient rite of exorcising oppressed
persons, houses and other places supposed to be haunted by unwelcome
spirits, the form of which is still retained in the Roman ritual? And is
not our enlightened America "the land of spiritualists, mesmerism,
soothsaying and mystical congregations"?

When the native of Saint Michael's invokes the moon, or the native of
Point Barrow his crude images previously to hunting the seal, in order
to bring good luck, is not the mental and emotional impulse the same as
that which actuates more civilized men to look upon "outward signs of an
inward and spiritual grace," or not to start upon any important
undertaking without first invoking the blessing of Deity? And are not
the rites observed by the natives on the Siberian coast, when the first
walrus is caught, the counterpart of our Puritan Thanksgiving Day?

Perhaps the untutored Eskimo has the same fear of the dangerous and
terrible, the unknown, the infinite, as ourselves, and parts with life
just as reluctantly: but it cannot be said that our observation favors
the fact of his longevity, although long life seems to prevail among
some of the circumpolar tribes, the Laps, for instance, who, according
to Scheffer, in spite of hard lives enjoy good health, are long-lived,
and still alert at eighty and ninety years.--(De Medecina Laponum.)

Owing to his hard life, the conflict with his circumstances and his want
of foresight, the Eskimo soon becomes a physiological bankrupt, and his
stock of vitality being exhausted, his bodily remains are covered with
stones, around which are placed wooden masks and articles that have
been useful to him during life, as I have seen at Nounivak island, or
they are covered with driftwood as observed in Kotzebue sound, or as at
Tapkan, Siberia, where the corpse is lashed to a long pole and is taken
some distance from the village, when the clothes are stripped off,
placed on the ground and covered with stones. The cadaver is then
exposed in the open air to the tender mercies of crows, foxes and
wolves. The weapons and other personal effects of the decedent are
placed near by, probably with something of the same sentiment that
causes us to use chaplets of flowers and immortelles as funeral
offerings--a custom that Schiller has commemorated in "Bringet hier die
letzen Gaben."

The future destiny of these people is a question in which the theologian
and politician are not less interested than the man of science. Some
observers seem to think that their numbers are diminishing under the
evil influence of so-called civilization. But as every race participates
in the same moral nature, and the entire history of humanity, according
to Herder, is a series of events pointing to a higher destiny than has
yet been revealed, there is no reason why the sum of human happiness,
under proper auspices, should not be increased among the Innuit race.
Arch-deacon Kirkby, a Church of England clergyman who has lately visited
them in a missionary capacity as far as Boothia, speaks in the highest
terms of their intelligence and capacity for improvement. Here, then, is
a brilliant opportunity for some one full of propagandism and charity to
repeat the acts of the modern apostles and extend the influence of
civilization to the gay, lively, curious and talkative hyperboreans
whose home is under the midnight sun and on the borders of the Icy Sea.

[Illustration: WRANGEL ISLAND.

Journal, American Geographical Society, Vol. XV, 1883.

Bulletin Nº. 3. Rosse.]


[Footnote 1: In November, 1882, while in London, I met Mr. Gilder, the
_Herald_ correspondent, who accompanied the U.S. ship _Rodgers_, and he
showed me this record and paper which he had taken from the cairn during
a subsequent visit to the island.]

[Footnote 2: De Virginibus velandis. Lutetiæ Parisiorum. 1675 fº., p.

[Footnote 3: See Guy's Hospital Report, XIX, 1874; also "Histoire
Médicale du Tatouage," in Archives de Médecine Navale, Tom. 11 and 12,
Paris, 1869.]

[Footnote 4: Retzius, Finska Kranier, Stockholm: 1878.]

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Irving C. Rosse


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